FGM Still Poses Threats to Girls & Women in Liberia: This Has to STOP!! By Juliana T. Noah-Johnson

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Few months ago, I joined my voice to the many others who are calling for the ban of this ancient, unwholesome traditional practice against Liberian women and girls. In my previous Opinion Editorial (OpEd), I stressed how wrong this practice is on a human being, who had been created in the “expressed image” of God. No women should have to be treated in such a dehumanizing manner by fellow humans in the name of honoring a tradition. In Liberia, FGM is an essential part of one of the two main known secret, traditional practices, which happen in several regions of the country. In this secret, traditional society, which is referred to as the ‘Sande Society’ or ‘Sande Bush’, young women and girls are taken there and are initiated through some corporal ways. Their private parts are mutilated and for most of the Liberian women, who have been through the practice, their backs are also cut. Huge visible marks are left on their backs and some parts of their bodies, leaving these women scarred for life.

Many actions are being exerted to stop this menace that has dogged Liberian women and girls for generations. This is an ancient, unscientific traditional practice that needs to be banned for good.  The practice of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) otherwise can be referred to as “female circumcision,” is as probably old as Liberia itself. This has come down through many generations and the practice is very rife in most of Liberia; especially in the central, northern and western regions of the country. For you who probably don’t know what FGM is and maybe hearing or reading about it for the first time, this is how the World Health Organization (WHO) defines it: “Female genital mutilation (FGM) comprises all procedures that involve partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.” The WHO clearly states that FGM has no health benefits, and it harms girls and women in many ways. It involves removing and damaging healthy and normal female genital tissue, and it interferes with the natural functions of girls’ and women’s bodies. Although all forms of FGM are associated with increased risk of health complications, the risk is greater with more severe forms of FGM. Immediate complications of FGM can include: severe pain, excessive bleeding (haemorrhage), genital tissue swelling, fever, infections e.g., tetanus, urinary problems, wound healing problems, injury to surrounding genital tissue, shock, death, etc. The WHO has also listed some of the long-term complications and they can include urinary problems (painful urination, urinary tract infections); vaginal problems (discharge, itching, bacterial vaginosis and other infections); menstrual problems (painful menstruations, difficulty in passing menstrual blood, etc.); scar tissue and keloid; sexual problems (pain during intercourse, decreased satisfaction, etc.); increased risk of childbirth complications (difficult delivery, excessive bleeding, caesarean section, need to resuscitate the baby, etc.) and newborn deaths; need for later surgeries: for example, the sealing or narrowing of the vaginal opening (type 3) may lead to the practice of cutting open the sealed vagina later to allow for sexual intercourse and childbirth (deinfibulation). Sometimes genital tissue is stitched again several times, including after childbirth, hence the woman goes through repeated opening and closing procedures, further increasing both immediate and long-term risks; and psychological problems (depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, low self-esteem, etc.). Looking at all of this and what’s still happening on the grounds in Liberia, one can safely still say that FGM still poses serious threats to the health and lives of girls and women. This threat has to stop immediately.  According to EqualityNow.org, presently, 31.8% of Liberian women and girls are living with the consequences of this harmful practice and many more are at risk. These women and girls have little choice in this matter, with reports of forced mutilations being common.Liberia remains one of the three West African countries that do not have a law criminalizing FGM despite having signed and ratified regional and international human rights instruments condemning the practice as a human rights violation, including the Maputo Protocol. There are still reports of this practice being active in some places. This is a threat to women and girls; it has got to stop.

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